‘…the art remains the focus, the gallerists personable, the conversation informed…’
Spring 1883 VII: Various Artists
Commerce, curatorial or carnival? Gallerists stake out various positions when wrangling the art fair as ‘form’. Some might stuff their booths with the unsold stock from their bulging backrooms, hoping to finally place those space-hogging works. Others think more carefully about the image they want to project – their brand – the participation in a fair an extension of carefully curated identity. Some go all out, either with dazzling eye-popping installation tropes, or with full-blooded solo presentations, taking full advantage of the attentions, however brief, of the teeming hordes that prowl the corridors. Most strive to achieve a balance somewhere amongst these options, respecting the artists and their work, and hoping to make a buck. And in the current climate, with the undoubted difficulties of access and proximity, gallerists have the added challenge of ‘pivoting’ ‘nimbly’ in order to maximise opportunities.
Melbourne’s Spring 1883 Art Fair, usually held in the accommodating confines of that grand dame The Windsor but abruptly interrupted by Covid, has had to spread out across a variety of sites – usual showrooms now quickly re-hung, borrowed spaces re-fitted for purpose, and the odd generous benefactor or retail destination opening their doors to emergent talent. Happily, despite the partying and conspicuous consumption typical of the art fair form, at this reconfigured & decentralised fair the art remains the focus, the gallerists personable, the conversation informed and we encounter plenty of quality to consider – from the wholly ingratiating to the cooly standoffish. So, a quick critical whip around and an encouragement to download details from Spring’s website and take your own tour of their ‘satellite spaces’.
Sutton Gallery, in their Fitzroy site, has curated a fine selection of gallery artists, highlights inc. Nicholas Mangan’s coral and classically inspired “Core-coralations (B)”, a sibling of a similar work featured in ACCA’s dense & diverting Daphne show. Brett Colquhoun exhibits three three recent paintings that take his imagery further into the calming realm of landscape albeit with a nice twist or two, and Anne DeBono further refines her touch in her dizzyingly perspectival collisions. Gian Manik stuffs the smaller space with his variously pulsating and poetic painterly range, his evolving technical prowess wrestling subject into submission. Close by at Arts Project Australia five studio artists star in a roomy installation that includes painting, craft and optimistic texts, but it is Chris Mason with his obsessive focus on cuddly, occasionally threatening corpulence that stops us in our tracks!
Heading south, painting is the primary focus at Nicholas Thompson’s pop-up, much of it appealing in instances either heaving with paint or breezy of touch, depending on your taste. Amber Wallis stands out with two murmuringly stately workouts in tenebrous tone whilst Leo Coyte lightens the mood with his dashing and comic “On the Farm”, obviously the apple of someone’s eye! An Uber across to Richmond, and Lon Gallery offers generous hospitality, and a generous selection of mediums by represented and guest artists – Tia Ansell’s scaling up welcome, and Simon Zoric amusingly macabre in a quasi-conceptual grid of snapshots of friends and art-world identities trying a coffin on for comfort and fit. Caleb Shea punctuates the space with his fun mining of modernist sculpture, in some contrast to Adam John Cullen’s gently archeological totems.
The pity re: the inaccessibility of The Windsor for Spring 1883 this year is in part due to the often delightful collisions between the homely hotel rooms and the art installed, and at Charles Nodrum Gallery we can only imagine the tensions that might have flowered between soft furnishings and the hard edges of geometric styling, especially evident in tightly wound works by Justin Andrews and Lesley Dumbrell, and in the startling fluorescence of Samara Adamson-Pinczewski’s object/paintings. Newly represented Louise Forthun sidesteps from her stencils, into several ingenious, delicate and deceptive folded paper works, these perhaps indicative of future developments – stand by! Nearby at Discordia, in a borrowed space more expansive than their usual digs, the gallery features a number of emergent but already notable painters – Victoria Todorov conjuring her own grand dame who would have fitted right in at The Windsor, Tim Buckovic with two petite iterations of his touchy-feely pointillist crowds, Harry Rothel and Julia Trybala with some alternately subtle & sexy writhing figuration and Nick Modrzewski continuing his lawyerly satire in paintings alongside creepy masked avatars.
Niagara Galleries, in converting their usually discreet viewing room into a discreet showroom, evoke some of the domesticity of a hotel room, and once you negotiate past regular programming inc. super work by both Sangeeta Sandrasegar and Paul Boston and enter the space you find it chock-filled with appealing subject, colour, and variable scale. A few wee and wonky Travis McDonald paintings literally lounge casually, Angela Brennan’s paintings and ceramic teeter close by, and Sean Meilak’s consummate sculptures rather unnervingly eye-ball you.
Meanwhile, in town at Chapter House/Alpha 60, galleries Haydens, Futures and blackartprojects take over the store, doing a rather nice impression of an actual art fair, amongst the minimalist shop fittings. Haydens, in a smart curatorial premise “Interface” encompassing thresholds and technological interconnections, features the expansive scratchy and colour soaked analogue photography of Guy Grabowsky, the sinister thermoplastic and epoxy objects of Jordan Halsall, and Amalia Lindo’s sculptural video constructions, featuring rafts of personal clips depersonalised into filmic collage by their editing and context. Each artist deals with the nuances of analogue and digital shape-shifting, in recombinations that their technology slyly exploits.
blackartprojects and Futures both feature a handful of paintings, each highly expressive in their own often idiosyncratic ways. Ellie Chambers-Robinson fuses landscape and abstraction into a densely foreboding and tangled territory and Nick Ives nails a fine kind of abject charm in his breezy portraits. From a distance, Tristan Chants images appear painterly, in a kinda graphic way, but close we recognise jacquard tapestry, drawn from a wide range of sources including er, ‘stick movies’ and a variety of other cultural lows and highs, digitally collaged and then woven up.
Futures has yet another Tim Buckovic painting – this one both light of touch and complex in its crowded imagery, and also several lovely and surreal Matilda Davis boards including a tiny ‘Antarctic’ landscape with the ice running red. Jewel-like and blood-curdling! Lara Chamas’ sculptures infuse everyday objects with pathos and a silent remembrance, whilst Eric Demetriou applies varying degrees of violence to a piano and some petrol barrels, reminding us obliquely of both Cage and Chamberlain. Finally, more or less completing the circuit, back to Collingwood and the space recently home to Lon and now to the newly-fledged Futures, and a presentation of the ‘solo’ by Matthew Harris that was meant for The Windsor – a new series of shapely eye-popping abstractions that evoke bodily bits as well a raft of libidinal details, alongside two rather great sculptures dealing with life and ancestry.
Enjoy ; )
Update: As of 8 pm Thursday 5th August Melbourne entered Covid-related Lockdown for at least 7 days. The Spring 1883 physical satellite booths have closed. Spring 1883 remains accessible online at ARTSY for the month of August. Some galleries might be planning to re-open the art fair presentations after the lockdown – visit the gallery websites directly for information regarding future accessibility.